Not only did the sighting of a new crescent moon on 13 April set into motion the first day of Ramadan — it also meant the second straight year that the holy festival would be observed under strict coronavirus restrictions in Saudi Arabia.
For one, Covid safety measures will remain and only vaccinated or immune worshippers are allowed to enter the Mecca's Grand Mosque or Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.
This can be verified through two apps: Tawakkalna and Eatmarna — which will confirm vaccinated individuals via coloured codes and a barcode relaying an individual's health status through encrpyted data.
Somewhat like a travel passport, Tawakkalna offers not only the Hajj permit, but also QR code check-in, gathering permits, a dashboard to view personal information such as passport and vehicle information for those driving to the mosques, booking of Covid-tests, and sharing health condition cards with other Tawakkalna users.
There's even a 'Caution Mode' where users are notified via Bluetooth once there is an infected, exposed or suspected virus carrier around.
"Tawakkalna App was developed to facilitate the issuance of movement permits electronically during the curfew period for government and private sector employees, as well as individuals, in cooperation with the Ministry of Health and all relevant authorities during the curfew, thus helping to reduce the spread of the pandemic in the Kingdom," the Tawakkalna website states.
Those who attempt to perform the Umrah without a permit — a shorter version than the Hajj pilgrimage and which can be done any time of the year — will face a fine of up to 10,000 riyals (US$3,551).
Worshippers who are late will also risk losing their designated prayer time slots. Prayers should also not exceed 30 minutes in all mosques in the Kingdom.
Children will also be barred from both mosques, and the courtyards around the holy grounds.
Still, with more than six million already vaccinated, reports the Arab News, 2021's holy event holds the promise of a Ramadan that's closer to normal for the Saudis.
Ramadan gatherings last year were mostly spent on screens, but this year, gatherings of no more than 20 are allowed.
The prayer ritual is the "largest single gathering of people on the planet" which sees about 2-3 million worshippers coming from around the world for the Hajj, according to Islamic Help.
Last year, just 10,000 locals in Saudi Arabia were allowed to take part in the Hajj, as compared to the 2.5 million who flew in for the event in 2019, reported Al Jazeera.